MARK MADISON: Hello. Today is November 10th, 2010, and my name is Mark Madison, and we're in Shepherdstown, West Virginia at the National Conservation Training Center, and today we have with us Craig Stihler, who works for the West Virginia DNR, and he is going to give a talk this evening to the Potomac Valley Audubon Society and the public about conserving West Virginia bats.
So, Craig, welcome to NCTC. We're really glad to have you here. And why don't you tell us a little what you do for the DNR.
CRAIG STIHLER: I'm a wildlife biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, and most of my work deals with federally threatened and endangered species. I deal with everything from birds to bats to flying squirrels to Cheat Mountain salamanders, but lately a lot of our work has focused on bats because of the growing threats to our bats.
MARK MADISON: What are some of the most immediate threats facing our West Virginia bats?
CRAIG STIHLER: Well, for years our major concern was disturbance of bats in caves, and a lot of our bats were endangered because of these disturbances, and through working with cave owners and the caving community, we've really reduced disturbance of bat populations that were increasing significantly. But recently, the major concern is a condition known as white nose syndrome, a fungal condition that seems to be affecting most of our cave-dwelling bats.
MARK MADISON: When did you first start to see white nose syndrome in West Virginia?
CRAIG STIHLER: Well, white nose syndrome was first identified-- the first time it's been seen in the U.S. was 2006. By 2009, it showed up in West Virginia. At that point, it was in Pendleton County. In 2010, this past January, February, March, we've seen it spread everywhere from Mercer County out to Jefferson County.
MARK MADISON: What are you trying to do to halt the spread?
CRAIG STIHLER: Our main concern now, we don't really know how to stop white nose syndrome, what we're trying to do is reduce the spread of white nose. So when we do any field work in caves, we disinfect our gear, we clean our gear, so we don't transport the spores from cave to cave. We try to do minimal disturbance of bats. So we really limit our studies at this point to things that will help us get a better understanding of white nose.
So we put some research on hold just because it wasn't worth the disturbance. We've been trying to get the caving community by limiting their trips into caves, and if they go into caves, make sure they clean gear. Because it seems pretty obvious that bats spread the disease from cave to cave, but it also looks like people play a role. And so even though we can't stop white nose, we can try to at least slow the spread until we find a solution.
MARK MADISON: Does white nose syndrome affect all bats?
CRAIG STIHLER: Right now it's looking like white nose syndrome is affecting only the hibernating bats, those bats that go into caves. It's a cold-loving fungus that grows at cold temperatures, the same temperatures where the bats hibernate. It doesn't seem to be affecting some of the what are called tree bats, the bats that roost in foliage and migrate north and south from season to season. So our tree bats that don't use caves might be immune. Our cave bats seem to be affected. But so far, Virginia big-eared bats, one of our rarest bats, seems to be less affected. We've not seen any affected so far, and we're keeping our fingers crossed.
MARK MADISON: Craig, why should people care about bats? What role do they play in our ecosystem?
CRAIG STIHLER: Well, all bats that live in West Virginia feed entirely on insects. That's their sole dietary item. So bats are the main predator on our night-flying insects. So we have birds that feed on insects during the day. When they go to rest in the evening, bats come out and feed on insects. And we have very large concentrations of bats in West Virginia. With all our mines and caves, there's very large populations, and at night they're really doing considerable insect control. In fact, a single bat can consume up to its weight in insects each night during the active season. Of course, when they're hibernating, they're not going out and feeding.
MARK MADISON: Right. Craig, how sensitive are bats to human disturbance?
CRAIG STIHLER: It seems like-- it varies from species to species. Some species are more sensitive, and those are-- the species are listed as endangered largely because of their sensitivity to disturbance, and what happens for the most part is bats go into hibernation with a limited amount of fat to get them through. They can't feed on more insects, so they have to survive on that amount of fat. So each time they would arouse in the wintertime, whether it's just a normal arousal for them to maybe look for water or to warm up for a short period, or whether it's caused by people going in the caves, they burn up a large amount of fat. So the more arousals they have to go through, the more fat they're burning, and literally they starve to death by spring. So some species are very sensitive. Indiana bats and Virginia bats, big-eared bats, two of our endangered species, are very sensitive to disturbance. So that's one of the reasons we've been working to limit access to caves in the wintertime when those bats are hibernating.
Now, Virginia big-eared bats also use caves for raising their young, so they're also sensitive at that time, because you've got a colony of bats with small young, and they're disturbed, the young could fall to the cave floor, and they may be abandoned.
MARK MADISON: That's fascinating. Is there anything individuals can do to help bats?
CRAIG STIHLER: Well, I mean, at this point we are asking people that do caving to limit their activity, especially in the wintertime now, because one thing this white nose syndrome does is it causes the bats to use up their fat supplies more quickly than normal. So these bats are even more stressed in the wintertime than normal. But people can also put up bat houses if they want to provide habitat for bats in the summertime and also get a little bug control that way.
MARK MADISON: Great. I have to ask you one more question. You're here at NCTC, and this is the home of the Fish & Wildlife Service. Do you work with the Fish & Wildlife Service at all on your endangered species projects?
CRAIG STIHLER: Oh, yes, we work very closely with the Fish & Wildlife Service. The West Virginia field office and DNR coordinate very closely on endangered species issues and we're almost on a daily to at least weekly communications.
MARK MADISON: Finally, Craig, if people wanted to learn more about the West Virginia DNR or the bats, is there a web site you could send them to?
CRAIG STIHLER: Yes, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has a web site, www.wvdnr.gov, and we have information there on our game species, our fish species, our wildlife diversity program, including fact sheets on many of our rare and threatened and endangered species.
MARK MADISON: Well, Craig, thank you very much, and once again, Craig
Stihler is out here on November 10th, 2010. He's going to talk about conserving West Virginia bats. Thank you very much for taking the time to listen.
CRAIG STIHLER: Thank you.
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